Adaptation to climate change: building resilience

In Time magazine’s mediocore issue (March 29th) on responding to climate change, journalist Mark Hertsgaard has a good article on adaptation:

With his curly, salt-and-pepper hair and thoughtful demeanor, Chris West looks like just another mid-career professor as he crosses the streets of Oxford University. But West, trained as a zoologist, is more an activist than an academic these days. From his cramped office around the corner from Balliol College, he directs the government’s UK Climate Impacts Program, which educates individuals and businesses in Britain about the risks they face from climate change and the ways to cope with it.

Not long ago, West says, a DuPont executive boasted to him about how well his company was now treating the environment. Jolly good, West replied, but was DuPont also prepared for how the environment might treat DuPont? “I asked how many of his company’s 300-odd facilities around the world were located in floodplains,” West says. Global warming will bring increased risks to anyone located in a floodplain. “He didn’t know,” West recalls. “I said, ‘Don’t you think you should?’”

For years, global warming was discussed in the hypothetical–a threat in the distant future. Now it is increasingly regarded as a clear, observable fact. This sudden shift means that all of us must start thinking about the many ways global warming will affect us, our loved ones, our property and our economic prospects. We must think– and then adapt accordingly.

In the April 3rd New York Times, Andrew Revkin has a good long article Reports From Four Fronts in the War on Warming on inequality in climate impacts and adaptation.

Over the last few decades, as scientists have intensified their study of the human effects on climate and of the effects of climate change on humans, a common theme has emerged: in both respects, the world is a very unequal place.

In almost every instance, the people most at risk from climate change live in countries that have contributed the least to the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases linked to the recent warming of the planet.

Those most vulnerable countries also tend to be the poorest. And the countries that face the least harm — and that are best equipped to deal with the harm they do face — tend to be the richest.

To advocates of unified action to curb greenhouse gases, this growing realization is not welcome news.

“The original idea was that we were all in this together, and that was an easier idea to sell,” said Robert O. Mendelsohn, an economist at Yale. “But the research is not supporting that. We’re not in it together.”

The large, industrialized countries are more resilient partly because of geography; they are mostly in midlatitude regions with Goldilocks climates — neither too hot nor too cold.

Many enjoy gifts like the thick, rich soil and generous growing season of the American corn belt or the forgiving weather of France and New Zealand.

But a bigger factor is their wealth — wealth built at least partly on a century or more of burning coal, oil and the other fossil fuels that underlie their mobile, industrial, climate-controlled way of life.

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